For the companies which have embraced the crowdsourcing mindset in their business processes, the motive is more than just outsourcing. Effective innovation crowdsourcing is about better collaboration, better innovation outcomes and ultimately superior value. But like many other new business models, some fail and some succeed in accomplishing this mission.
In a recent article that we wrote for the leading business magazine “Innovation Management” with the same title as this post, our central idea was to compile a practical list of tips which can help executives make their crowdsourcing initiatives work and get the most out of them: Some of these ideas are new; but to a surprising degree the most important ones are the old things, that we probably tend to forget as we are bombarded by countless applications and ideas in the crowdsourcing space.
These tips are based on the result of a multi-year study and discussions with some of my colleagues in the management consulting industry, academic friends and executives who have had a positive or negative experience with crowdsourcing. They also cover observations of more than 50 regular winner-takes-all challenges as well as online multi-stage competitions which I refer to as “innovation tournaments”. I hope this will become a starting point for our online community to share and discuss their views and enrich our mutual understanding of the emerging best practices for running effective crowdsourcing initiatives.
1. Make sure the nature of your problem is crowd-friendly:
Companies face many challenges and these challenges can certainly be crowdsourced. But that doesn’t mean the crowd can solve all those problems on time. There is an inherent uncertainty associated with crowdsourcing in the sense that companies don’t know if they are going to get an answer by the end of their campaign.
Therefore, it’s better for mission-critical and extremely difficult issues to work with a smaller group or a “controlled crowd” or alternatively have a plan B in place in case the crowd can’t come up with a solution on time.
2. Define your problem at the right level:
At its raw form, the crowd might not be able to solve certain problems. Think about the optimization of a sub-system software for a satellite which might look scary for many participants in a crowdsourcing community. However, companies can decompose an issue into smaller and more abstract problems to a level digestible by the crowd. In the case of the satellite example, this can be a math problem which in essence addresses the optimization challenge.
3. Make sure high performers are definitely involved:
The number of solvers participating in a crowdsourcing effort matters: It is certainly a good thing to generate a high number of ideas, but the quality of the ideas coming out of the challenge is even more important. These quality ideas typically come from high performers and experienced experts. Since in many settings, high-quality solutions are the only ones that are being picked up by the company, it is essential to involve high performers to increase the likelihood of high-quality idea generation.